The General Assembly’s Gift to Virginia’s Students

by Matt Hurt

During the 2024 General Assembly session, two bills were introduced which have the potential to provide two additional weeks of uninterrupted learning that Virginia’s students in grades three through eight haven’t had in a few years.  Specifically, HB 1076 and SB 435 are two very concise sister bills which simply intend to allow school divisions the flexibility to administer other assessments in lieu of the through year growth assessments (HB2027/SB1357) that were required by the 2021 General Assembly, so long as the alternative assessments are aligned to Virginia’s Standards of Learning.  Last week HB 1076 passed the House 80-18 and SB 435 made it through the first Senate subcommittee.

The through year growth assessment legislation was certainly well intentioned.  Educators have clamored for years for a process that would demonstrate student growth throughout the school year and to use this measure for accountability purposes.  The problem with this method of determining growth is that there is a great incentive to obtain high scores at the end of the year, and equally great incentive to obtain low scores at the beginning of the year in order to demonstrate high degrees of growth.  This problem was explained in detail here, and the negative unintended consequences yielded were outlined here

Currently, these through year growth assessments disrupt instruction in each elementary and middle school for a week in the fall and another week in the winter.  While these assessments take a little less time to administer than the end-of-year SOL test, the entire process still takes a significant amount of time.  For example, many students with disabilities require testing accommodations such as small group or one-on-one testing, having the test read aloud, etc., all of which requires teachers to spend extra time testing that they would normally spend instructing students.  Classroom teachers, special education teachers, intervention teachers, instructional aides, etc. are all pressed into service to help with testing, and this limits the amount of time that they work with students.

Besides the loss of two weeks of instructional time, the results of the through year growth assessments are not found to be useful by teachers and administrators.  First, there are no incentives in place to ensure that students try their best, as these tests have no high stakes either for the student or the school.  Second, the fall assessment assesses the same content from the previous spring’s SOL test. In other words, the fall assessment duplicates efforts to yield less reliable data than the results from the previous year.  Third, the mid-year assessment does not fully assess what has been taught, and it also assesses content that has not yet been taught.  Assessing students on content that has not been taught yields nothing more than wasted time that would have been better used by providing instruction.

If this legislation is signed into law, school divisions will be provided the flexibility to use other assessments in lieu of the through year growth assessments so long as those assessments are aligned to Virginia’s Standards of Learning.  Some divisions used to administer assessments that were valued for the reliable data provided, which helped guide their instructional efforts, but eliminated those assessments in order to give back some instructional time to teachers.  Other divisions continued to administer their previous assessments in order to attain actionable data to help their students.

It is curious to note that these bills only provide relief to Virginia’s students and educators during the 2024-2025 school year.  This may be due to the fact that the Board of Education is in the process of revising the school accountability system, and legislators may wish to see how that plays out before making long- term decisions.  The Board has discussed utilizing the VVAAS system to determine growth, and this system doesn’t use the through year growth assessments, thus rendering these tests devoid of their original purpose.

Matt Hurt is director of the Comprehensive Instructional Program.

The Comprehensive Instructional Program is a consortium of sixty-two public school divisions that work together to improve outcomes for students.  This consortium was founded in 2014 by the superintendents in Virginia’s Superintendents Region VII, which includes the nineteen divisions in far southwest Virginia.  Since the founding of the CIP, educators in Region VII have leveraged their collective efforts to produce the best Standards of Learning pass rates among all regions in Virginia since 2017.